Rotary Club of Verrado

From left to right are Carl Goin, Rotary Club of Verrado immediate past president; Don Mellon, Rotary Club of Verrado director of the Rotary Foundation; BESD Superintendent Kristi Sandvik; Frank Balkcom, Rotary Club of Verrado director of community service; Bales Elementary School Principal Brittany Tarango; and Irene Hammerquist, Bales Elementary School first grade teacher.

With over 5,400 students and more than 600 employees, the Buckeye Elementary School District (BESD) has seen continuous growth over the years — and it’s projected to add more than 1,200 students by the 2023 school year.

But Brittany Tarango, the principal at Bales Elementary School, said the district’s close-knit, family feel remains the same.

“We’re getting bigger, but there’s still that feeling of care, family and well-being for all of the schools and really good partnerships,” Tarango said.

One of those partnerships is with the Rotary Club of Verrado, a group of professionals who share a drive to give back.

This month, the club, which actively supports the Buckeye Resource Center, Buckeye Youth Council, Feed My Starving Children and Homeless Youth, presented a $3,000 check to Bales Elementary to go toward reading programs.

The donation comes after the group of Rotarians decided to join the K-8 campus in its literacy efforts, said Kristi Sandvik, BESD superintendent.

“We’re a district that prides itself on financial stewardship, but at the end of the day, we are still in need of funds to help support literacy. We’re trying to make sure kids — kindergarten through third grade — know how to read, they are ready to go,” Sandvik said.

“Research tells us that if by third grade all kids know how to read, then reading to learn is much easier for them to do after the third grade.”

According to the Reading is Fundamental Literacy Network website, 70% of students in Arizona cannot read at the proficient level by the time they enter the fourth grade.

Sandvik, who is also a Rotarian, called literacy is a universal skill.

“I’m constantly talking about the fact that we still have to teach kids how to read. Whether it’s through one-on-one books, devices, what have you,” she said.

Tarango said the school is currently working to identify which literacy-focused programs the $3,000 will go toward.

“There are some intervention programs we’re looking at. We have had a lot of success with an online program called ‘Read Naturally,’” she said.

Rotarian Frank Balkcom, the club’s director of community service, said the donation is an investment for the future.

“One of the things that’s unique about Buckeye, especially in the school districts, we talk about cohesiveness. Cohesiveness is created by having compassion and caring,” Balkcom said.

“That’s what I see within our school districts within the city of Buckeye. We’re here to invest in our future leaders, teachers, reporters, police officers.”

And Balkcom strongly encourages the community to participate in the district’s School Improvement Bond Election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

“We have a tremendous opportunity come November for us to get involved in our bond election and make sure that we support our school,” Balkcom said.

“It takes a community to teach a community.”

The election in November will decide whether to approve a $54 million bond issue, which will support academic choice, enhance safety and address the anticipated growth in the district. For more information, visit besd33.org.